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Published March 26, 2009 10:56 AM

The popular myth of 'water wars'

Earlier this month the UN warned that climate change could spark conflicts over water. But the idea of future 'water wars' is a myth, says Wendy Barnaby.

Neither Egypt, Israel nor Jordon produce enough water for their needs. But while they have fought wars with each other, it has not been over water, says Barnaby. Instead, areas in need of water import food as a 'virtual' boost to water supplies. Tony Allan, a scientist at Kings College London, says more water flows into the Middle East embedded in grain each year than down the Nile to Egyptian farmers.

International agreements also help solve water shortages, says Barnaby. Israeli and Palestinian water professionals cooperate through a Joint Water Committee. Similarly, the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan helps diffuse tensions over water.

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Barnaby argues that although water management will need to adapt in the face of climate change, the basic mechanisms of trade, international agreements and economic development that currently ease water shortages will persist.

We must improve the conditions for developing countries to trade, she says. And convince water engineers and managers that the solutions to water scarcity lie in the water/food/trade/development nexus. Most importantly, we must dispel the myth of water wars.

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